When the Loma Prieta Earthquake destroyed much of downtown Santa Cruz and killed three local residents on October 17, 1989, at 5:04 p.m., Diane Bridgeman, Ph.D., stepped-up to help as a Red Cross mental health volunteer. She hasn’t stopped volunteering since.
Diane, a long-time resident of Santa Cruz County, has a private practice in Santa Cruz as a Clinical Psychologist, and is the coordinator of the volunteer Disaster Mental Health (DMH) team for the American Red Cross Santa Cruz County Chapter. She teaches Red Cross courses in Psychological First Aid, International Humanitarian Law, and Foundations of Disaster Mental Health among others. The DMH team is vital to the Red Cross relief efforts as volunteers help people affected by a crisis cope with their experience.
“When volunteering for the Red Cross, not only do you increase your own knowledge when you learn how to handle different challenges of disasters, but then you are able to go in the field and share that with other people and touch them in a meaningful way,” she said.
This past March, Diane and seven members of her DMH team of 52 volunteers were present during the Memorial Service for two Santa Cruz police officers who were killed in the line of duty. The DMH volunteers were stationed at the Santa Cruz Arena, where they provided emotional support for those who were affected by the tragedy.
“The community greatly appreciated us being present as evident by the feedback they gave us,” she said. “This was just our gesture of providing support during a critical incident in our community. It’s humbling how people can make a difference by just being present.”
Her main role as a Red Cross Disaster Mental Health volunteer at the manager level is to help educate volunteers in their communities about how to stay calm in critical incidents so they can take care of themselves while also meeting the needs of their clients. “Learning how to take care of oneself in the midst of a disaster, especially as a mental health professional, is important to enhance resilience and it’s important to model this behavior to those we serve,” she said.
Diane has received several awards because of the nearly 20 years she has volunteered with the Red Cross and other organizations including Medical Professional Hero Award in 2009, the Roundtree Award in 2010 for her immeasurable personal contributions to the Red Cross, and the Hazel K. Snow Award for her superior leadership, both locally and nationally, in 2011.
She has been deployed numerous times to help with relief efforts, including the Asiana Airline incident in July, the Northern California floods in 1995, 1997, and 1998, Hurricane Floyd in Pennsylvania in 1999, the Alaska Airline Crash in 2000, and wildfires in San Diego in 2007 and Santa Cruz in 2008 and 2009. One of her most humbling experiences as a volunteer was in New York City, after the September 11 attacks. In the middle of this man-made disaster, Diane said being there with people when they are the most vulnerable and being able to support them while they are grieving makes a significant difference in the recovery process.
Diane has also given Red Cross presentations in Italy, Germany, Sweden, Geneva, Switzerland (at the International Committee of the Red Cross), and China. After each trip abroad, she reviews what she has learned with her Chapter and community to implement new best practices where appropriate.